Conductor George Szell appeared frequently at the postwar Salzburg Festival, but after his first year and before his last year there, Szell didn't lead the Vienna Philharmonic, the festival's usual orchestra, but one of its five visiting orchestras. Apparently the Viennese musicians didn't like Szell's dictatorial leadership or his brusque rehearsal technique when they met in 1949, and they refused to play for him again. Thus, those who try this seven-disc set of Szell in Salzburg will find only two performances with the Wiener Philharmoniker, the 1968 recordings of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto with Clifford Curzon and Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, and neither of them proves particularly convincing.
If they are true Szell aficionados, however, they will still find plenty of interesting performances here. With the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1958, there are Szell's pointed recordings of Mozart's Symphonies No. 33 and No. 41 plus his robust Piano Concerto No. 9 with pianist Rudolf Firkusny as well as his edgy recordings of Gottfried von Einem's Ballade, William Walton's Partita, and Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. With the Czech Philharmonic in 1963, there are his clean-limbed, hard-muscled recordings of Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Eroica Symphony, along with his strong-willed account of the same composer's Piano Concerto No. 3 also with Firkusny. With the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1964, there are his dark Alceste Overture by Gluck, his streamlined Piano Concerto No. 27 by Mozart with Clifford Curzon, and his unfortunately uninspired reading of the Sinfonia Domestica by Strauss. And, finally, there is also his frisky 1959 recordings with the French Orchestre National de la RTF of Haydn's Symphony No. 92 and his prosaic 1965 recording of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Clifford Curzon and the Dresden Staatskapelle. While none of these performances, fine as some of them may be, are finer than Szell's studio recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra, his usual orchestra, all of them will be at least interesting to those who revere the conductor's work. Despite being both live and for the most part antique, these recordings are still amazingly clear and clean.